• Tony Bosworth

Council committee stoush – Liberals claim “some councillors have no stomach to do heavy lifting”

Gloves are off...

The Hawkesbury Liberal Team have come out swinging after Monday’s Council meeting, with leading Liberal Nathan Zamprogno saying “some councillors have no stomach to do the heavy lifting”.

Liberal councillor Tiffany Tree, the independents, and Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler decided not to put their hands up for any places on three new committees - leaving those committees under the complete control of the two major political parties.

Independents and Greens didn’t agree with the new committee structure, which had been voted through thanks to the casting vote of Mayor Patrick Conolly - which effectively gave him two votes.

The independents say the new system of five councillors per committee, and no experts or community representatives, was ill-thought through, and had a poor constitution, with Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler claiming it had, “more holes than a kitchen colander”.

The Liberals, in a media release posted Wednesday on councillor Nathan Zamprogno’s official Facebook page, said the situation had “left three Liberal councillors with significantly higher workloads when other councillors expressed no interest in taking up crucial committee work that will take council through to the next Council elections in September”.

Cllr Tiffany Tree could have been the fourth Liberal shouldering some of that workload but she also decided not to put her hand up for any committee positions.

At the last council elections, Cllr Tree was number 2 on the Liberal voting ticket.

Councillors who decided not to put their hands up to serve on the new committees, L-R from top: Liberal Tiffany Tree, independents John Ross, Mary Lyons-Buckett, Greens' Danielle Wheeler, independents Emma-Jane Garrow, Paul Rasmussen and Pete Reynolds

The council voted before Christmas to restructure its committee system after a year-long process, aimed at amalgamating eight committees into three.

“It was felt that these larger committees would improve public access, enable cross pollination of expertise, and elevate the importance of some issues (like Disaster Management and Resilience) to become the importance of the whole Chamber,” says the Liberal’s media release.

The Liberal release adds “It was intended that each of the new committees, titled Community Services, Environment, and Innovation and Partnerships would take on five councillors from within the Chamber, from across the political spectrum, to ensure a diversity of views and harness the community connections and expertise each councillor brings with them,” says the media release.

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett told the Post that at no stage in the process did Liberals and Labor councillors hold any discussions with independents about diverse representation on the committees.

“The Lib-Lab coalition kept all the organising in house on that, decided what they wanted and left a couple of positions for ‘others’,” said the Deputy Mayor.

The Liberal media release says, “awkward silences met the first council meeting for 2021 held on Tuesday [Hawkesbury Post FACT CHECK – the meeting was on Monday] when none of the Independent or Greens-aligned councillors expressed any interest in taking up positions on the committees, leaving the remaining councillors to take on a heavier workload in advising council on matters encompassing Waste Management, Environmental Sustainability, Tourism, Infrastructure, the Arts, and Civics and Citizenship.”

But veteran independent councillor, Paul Rasmussen, said the committee changes were simply a political stunt.

“We will continue to work hard for and with our community as always. Not this anaemic bureaucratic community lite structure to suit lazy councillors who have little genuine interest in working closely with our community for the best outcome.

“The system is designed to enable those councillors who are running for state, federal and local elections in September to do less in the community. It’s about those councillors and their careers, nothing to do with working closely with our community for a better Hawkesbury.

“It’s a big political party stunt and the community will see through this smoke and mirrors subterfuge,” Cllr Rasmussen said.

Mayor Patrick Conolly, and fellow Liberal councillors Sarah Richards and Nathan Zamprogno, plus Labor councillors Barry Calvert and Amanda Kotlash, each took positions on the three committees - where they now have complete control.

Councillors who decided to sit on the new committees, L-R from top: Barry Calvert, Amanda Kotlash, Sarah Richards, Mayor Patrick Conolly, Nathan Zamprogno

Cllr Zamprogno said this was “despite pleas to the Chamber for others to join them to carry the load”.

In the council chamber on Monday, Cllr Zamprogno said how extraordinary it was that other councillors refused to take up positions on the committees “so soon after lecturing us about how crucial their work was”.

Councillor Sarah Richards said in the media release: “Our job as elected representatives is to ensure we run an effective and streamlined council. Committee reform has been needed for some time and I am pleased that we have undertaken this task. It is disappointing that the Independent/Green aligned councillors chose not to participate. I believe that the Hawkesbury ratepayers expect better.”

Councillor Zamprogno said, “The new committee constitution was drawn up specifically so that almost any councillor who wanted to contribute to this work could be accommodated on one or more of them, especially when these councillors were so vocal about the importance of the work the committees did.”

“These reforms were discussed for over a year, and were decided on after numerous compromises were made, such as preserving the Heritage Committee. We all have to work equally hard on behalf of the community and it saddens me when others won’t do their share. I’m disappointed that some councillors have no stomach to do the heavy lifting - it really is a key part of the work the community expects us to do.”

Other independent and Greens councillors hit back this morning, saying they were already on Hawkesbury council committees and worked very hard.

Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler, said: “I will not sit on an Environment committee with three climate change deniers. I still have two committees. I have concluded two working groups - with serious work to show for it - and am only one committee down, so don’t think I’ll be holidaying any time soon.”

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett said: “I have devoted many hours to preparation for and participation in council committees. This has ranged from sitting in budget meetings with each Council Directorate over a number of days each year, to being a council representative at council, conferences, regional and state level meetings.

“I expect to still have significant input into important council matters given all 12 councillors are on the Emergency and Disaster management Committee and the proposed system has councillors setting the agenda and making decisions on all committee matters in council meetings.

“The over-bureaucratisation of the new system, in my opinion, adds unnecessary steps and loses the value of input and debate from experts and community members who were previously chosen by council to contribute to our committees.

“The wider public have always had the opportunity to speak on Committee matters when the committee minutes have been before Council.

“Given there is only a few months remaining in this council term, and the aims, objectives and specific tasks remaining from previous committees are yet to be articulated, the number of meetings for each new committee is likely to be minimal.

“Whereas I promote moves to improve how we operate, I saw nothing in the proposed changes to committees which would add value or increase our ability to be better informed in our decision-making.

“I also use Tuesday afternoons (the proposed time for committee meetings) to prepare for council meetings and briefings, and do not find it a conducive time for myself or many members of the community to be able to be at the council chambers. It may suit those on council who seek to restrict their council-related times to one day, but that is not my preference.”

And independent councillor Pete Reynolds said: “These lies are exactly why big political parties don’t belong on local councils. I’m still on three committees, having been on six committees over the last four years.

“If the Liberals want to have a whinge they can do it to their colleague Tiffany Tree. Four years on council and she has not served on one committee.”

Yesterday we asked Cllr Tree for her take on the current committee situation and invited her to comment alongside her colleagues. We have not heard back from the councillor, but will let you know when we do.

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